On the Road to Sustainability

Guests exchange views on opportunities for Hong Kong under the Belt-Road Initiative at a seminar entitled “One Belt One Road – Opportunities for Hong Kong” held at CityU.

Expertise in social sciences and public policy forms the backbone of the research project “Hong Kong Professional Services in the Coevolving Belt-Road Initiative: Innovative Agency for Sustainable Development”.

The Belt and Road initiative is a development strategy which LI Che-lan Linda, professor of political science in the Department of Public Policy, believes will also have major implications for Hong Kong. For that reason, along with her colleagues, she began to organise the Sustainable Hong Kong (SusHK) Research Hub with a particular focus on ways to enhance the city’s sustainability.

Since the early 1980s, Li notes, Hong Kong has made enormous contributions to the economic reforms in mainland China. However, given the ongoing pace of development and fierce competition from cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen, steps are needed to maintain a high level of involvement and investment.

Li is confident that Hong Kong can contribute to the Belt and Road Initiative, but each sector, including the likes of accounting and legal professions, must work hard to capitalise on the opportunities.

There is a lot to explore and to be done, and our project is designed to help,” says Li, who is the hub’s convenor. With two colleagues, she took part in the First Advanced International Conference on “The Belt and Road” Industry and Finance and The Fifth Global Think Tank Summit, which were held in Beijing in May.

CityU established the SusHK hub in late 2016 with HK$3.4 million backing from the Strategic Public Policy Research Funding Scheme which is linked to the Central Policy Unit. In concept, it is a multidisciplinary platform intended to conduct research on issues related to sustainable development in Hong Kong and the Greater China region. It also aims to enhance collaboration and disseminate information among academics, industries, government bodies, and the general public.

Li’s team has already fostered a close partnership with the accountancy sector with a view to more active research, and the aim is to extend this to the legal profession too. “We do not pitch ideas to them about what to do. Our team helps them appreciate and build on their own strengths,” she says. “The project team’s role to the professions is akin to the catalyst and this characteristic reflects contributions from CLASS in the project team as well. Members from the business and the law provide technical know-how relevant to the professions, while CLASS members recommend how best to leverage their expertise from a policy perspective.”

Applied social sciences and public policy play a central role in the research project. The former is about understanding human relationships and the interaction between cultures and communities. A key question asked in the study of policy is what’s needed to achieve good governance within different societies. Making the Belt and Road Initiative a success will depend on the various players understanding such aspects as they look to implement major projects in other countries. “Though it mainly concerns trade and investment, the Belt and Road scheme is also about how China contributes to the new global order,” Li says. “China wants to foster new ways of collaboration, with an emphasis on sharing benefits. This is ambitious because we have seen a lot of tensions arising from globalisation. There are clearly problems and gaps that need to be addressed and the Belt and Road Initiative is China’s response.”

Applied social sciences can have an impact on various levels, not least by improving intercultural communication and mutual understanding.

For instance, the success of a scheme to construct a new power plant or upgrade infrastructure depends on more than just good engineering. There also has to be an in-depth understanding of the host countries’ institutions, work culture, trade union practices, traditions and predominant religious beliefs. Projects may involve changes to land use and the relocation of local residents, which can affect livelihoods and lead to protests.

“The perspectives and skills of social scientists are often essential in dealing with such difficult situations,” Li says. “They can offer practical advice to planners and construction teams to help them understand the considerations of all the different stakeholders before, during and after implementation.”

The starting point for the SusHK project is public policy and governance, as well as the accountancy and legal professions, which are seen as exemplifying Hong Kong’s core values and institutions. The initial focus is to show how these professions have contributed to the sustainable and healthy development of Hong Kong as a whole - and how other cities and countries can follow that lead.

“Ensuring new projects are understood and supported by the people in these other countries, not just the governments, will be the key to success. - Prof Linda LI”

Since the Belt and Road Initiative emphasises connectivity and communication, it is expected that CLASS will be involved in many different facets.

“Our scholars can explore ways to enhance communications for projects along the new Silk Road,” Li says. “We are in the process of establishing a research centre, and the door is open for colleagues to participate.”

A new but related project focusing on the perspectives of young people is already under consideration. This would look at ways to promote connectivity and co-operation through cultural exchanges and building person-to-person ties.

“It is about the ability to engage people with diverse ideas and outlooks,” Li says. “Ensuring new projects are understood and supported by the people in these other countries, not just the governments, will be the key to success.”

Guests exchange views on opportunities for Hong Kong under the Belt-Road Initiative at a seminar entitled “One Belt One Road – Opportunities for Hong Kong” held at CityU.